The Dastardly Past: Sidney Paget.
Today (October 4th) marks the anniversary of the birth of illustrator Sidney Paget in 1860. If his name is not immediately associated with that of Sherlock Holmes, his images surely are. In the course of his successful career, he created 356 Holmes illustrations–mostly for The Strand magazine. They have been a source of inspiration for actors throughout the past century, giving life to the postures, mannerisms, and expressions of Holmes, Watson, LeStrade, et al.
Sadly, Paget passed away at the age of 47 from a mediastinal tumor–a tumor located between his lungs, sternum, and spinal column. The area also touches on the heart, esophagus, and aorta, and is therefore a tricky place to operate. Such tumors are rare and, in the early twentieth century, they represented a death sentence. In his short life, however, he created work that seems destined to remain immortal.
The Dastardly Past: Colin Dexter.
Today’s post will be short, but I could not let the anniversary of the birth of Colin Dexter pass without comment. I am a huge Dexter fan, and I love reading his books as much as playing Spot the Author in various episodes of the television series starring John Thaw. I was heartened to learn that Colin Dexter came to writing mystery novels later in his life—his mid-forties. I think it gives hope to those of us wanting to follow in his (impressive) footsteps as part of our post-children, nearing retirement plan. We lost Mr. Dexter this March, but he left us an impressive legacy as consolation.
The Dastardly Past: the NBC Saturday Mystery Movies.
On September 15, 1971, NBC launches its popular NBC Saturday Mystery Movie “wheel” series. The network’s idea was to feature a revolving series of movie-length episodes with a variety of sleuths. Introduced with theme music composed by Henry Mancini, the initial programs included Columbo, starring Peter Falk; McCloud, starring Dennis Weaver; and McMillan & Wife, starring Rock Hudson and Susan St. James. Hec Ramsey starring Richard Boone was a second-season addition, when NBC shifted its mystery “wheel” to Sundays. The network added another mystery wheel series, first on Wednesday nights and then on Tuesday nights. Some of the detectives featured in these slots included some heavy caliber Hollywood names, such as George Peppard as Banacek, Richard Widmark as Madigan, Dan Dailey in Faraday & Company, and Helen Hayes and Mildred Natwick as The Snoop Sisters. The initial three series, however, remained the staples of the wheel’s success and few baby boomers will forget Columbo, McCloud, or McMillan & Wife.
The Dastardly Past: Anthony Ernest Pratt.
Anthony Ernest Pratt was born in obscurity in England on August 10, 1903. He died in obscurity ninety years later. In between, Mr. Pratt undertook many occupations, including apprentice in a chemistry lab, professional musician, civil servant, and shopkeeper. In World War II he worked in a factory making tank components and volunteered as a fired warden. It was during the tedium of his wartime occupations that Pratt conceived his most remunerative idea. He invented a board game called Clue (Cluedo in Great Britain), immortalizing the likes of Col. Mustard, Mrs. Peacock, and Prof. Plum. The game went on the market in 1949 and has remained in the ranks of top-selling board games ever since. In 1985 it was made into a movie with an all-star cast. Adapting to the changing times, it is currently available in a variety of versions, including the Big Bang Theory, Dr. Who, Firefly, Game of Thrones, Golden Girls, Harry Potter, the Legend of Zelda, Scooby Doo, the Simpsons, Star Wars, and Twilight.
The Dastardly Past: Italy’s Carabinieri.
On July 14, 1814, a national force charge with policing both the military and civilians was formed in Italy. Still performing the same duties today, they are called the Carabinieri, and they have the Best. Hats. Ever.
The Dastardly Past: Sherlock Holmes’ Fatal Hour
On July 12, 1931, the movie Sherlock Holmes’ Fatal Hour was released (it was entitled The Sleeping Cardinal in Great Britain). It starred Arthur Wontner in his first Holmesian role, with Ian Fleming (no, not that Ian Fleming) as Watson. Wontner starred in four more Sherlock Holmes stories during the 1930s. His second Holmes movie, The Missing Rembrandt (1932), is officially considered a lost film. Luckily, however, the Internet Archive has made the others available for viewing online https://archive.org/
The Dastardly Past: E. C. Bentley.
On July 10, in 1875, E. C. Bentley was born. Bentley was the author of Trent’s Last Case, frequently listed as one of the all-time greats of mystery fiction and praised by G. K. Chesterton and Dorothy L. Sayers, alike. Chesterton even dedicated his own mystery novel, The Man Who Was Thursday, to Bentley. Bentley was also the inventor of the clerihew—his middle name—humorous verse in irregular meters highlighting historical and popular figures—rather like the poems of Ogden Nash but with a biographical twist.